2017 M. NCAA Picks: Wild Animal Party in the 400 Free Relay

2017 MEN’S NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS

400 YARD FREESTYLE RELEAY

  • NCAA record: 2:46.03, Auburn, 02-21-2009
  • American record: 2:47.02, Texas, 03-28-2009
  • U.S. Open record:2:46.03, Auburn, 02-21-2009
  • 2016 NCAA Champion: NC State (2:46.81)

Last year the NC State Wolfpack got their long-coveted relay title after an exhilarating race that saw them beat out the Texas Longhorns by a mere four hundredths of a second and the Florida Gators by a quarter of a second.  With all three schools figuring to bring back three of their four swimmers from last year, we should end up with another race for the ages to cap off this year’s NCAA championships.

If you haven’t looked recently, you might be surprised to find out that the Gators have the fastest time in the NCAA by over a second so far this season.  Sure, they have Caeleb Dressel, the fastest man ever in the 100 free, but Gregg Troy also has a couple of 400 IMers, Mark Szaranek and Jan Switkowski, throwing down 42-lows.  Add in freshman Maxime Rooney, one of the top recruits in his class, and Florida has a studly relay.  Dressel surely wasn’t focusing on SECs, and should go faster this week.  The question is where the other three will be at the end of a grueling four days of competition.  If they’ve still got anything left in the tank at all, this event can come down to the touch.

While NC State has the reputation as a sprint school, and rightfully so, the Longhorns are sneaky good here as well.  They have five guys under the NCAA invite time of 42.65, and that doesn’t even include Jack Conger, who’s split sub-41.  The Longhorns barely snuck into finals last year, as Eddie rested Conger and Joe Schooling, but tore up the pool in the finals, finishing a close 2nd behind NC State.  Conger, Schooling, Brett Ringgold, and either Tate Jackson, who’s emerged his sophomore year, or 500/200 freestyle champion Townley Haas, who dropped the mile in order to focus on this distance, give the Longhorns five guys who should be capable of splitting under 42, and that makes them a formidable foe.

The defending champions bring back 3/4s of last year’s squad after losing Simonas Bilis and his sub-41 split to graduation.  That loss has been tempered by the emergence of Justin Ress, who had an impressive meet at SECs, going 42.14 in the 100 free after focusing on backstroke last year.  Ryan Held looked incredibly sharp despite sporting a beard, and Soeren Dahl is a veteran steady presence, as is Andreas Schiellerup.  Expect the Wolfpack to fight tenaciously to hold on to this crown, but Bilis was a big loss.  Not insurmountable, but big.

Indiana looks to be developing into a NC State-like sprint powerhouse.  Blake Pieroni seems to have channeled his surprise place on the USA 4×100 free relay team into a renewed improvement in short course.  He sports a 41.44  flat start, and Ali Khalafalla, Anze Tavcar, and Muhammed Samy make for a very solid supporting cast, to say the least.  The Hoosiers will once again be in the middle of things, but probably don’t have quite enough power to compete with the top three.

Arizona State and Ohio State both had great times conference meets, and are ranked 5th and 6th in this event, respectively.  While you don’t want to count out any squad helmed by the great Bob Bowman, it’s hard to imagine the Sun Devils getting much faster at NCAAs, or, at the very least, improving enough to hold their seed.  Still, they project to make the B-final, and would not be a complete surprise to see them sneak into the top 8.  The Buckeyes are in a similar situation.  They finished 2nd to Indiana at Big Tens, led by senior Matt McHugh.  However, at NCAAs they’ll have to compete against several teams who are likely to move up well against their psych sheet seedings.

One of those teams figures to be the California Golden Bears.  They come in with the 8th seed, from the Georgia Fall Invite.  That squad consisted of backstroker/IMer/everythinger Ryan Murphy, freshman freestyler Michael Jensen, Justin Lynch, and Andrew Seliskar.  Dave Durden’s teams always bring it for the big dance, and they have some depth here with, both Long Gutierrez and Matt Josa available.

At least other two SEC schools should figure into the mix.  Alabama finished 2nd at SECs and sits 7th overall with a 2:49.68.  Freshman Zane Waddell joined sophomores Laurent Bams and Robert Howard, along with junior Christopher Reid for a very solid team.  Auburn finished almost a second behind, but has a little more veteran presence thanks to junior Peter Holoda and senior Kyle Darmody, and should move up from the 10th seed.

Going back to the Pac 12, USC sits at nine right now, but the Trojans didn’t look 100% at Pac-12s, which could actually bode well for NCAAs, especially when you have some big time sprinters like Dylan Carter and Santo Condorelli in the mix.  The latter has been relatively quiet this NCAA season after finishing 4th in the Olympics, and could be saving up for something special this week.

Top Eight Predictions

Place Team (Seed) Season Best
1 Texas (4) 2:48.66
2 NC State (2) 2:48.14
3 Florida (1) 2:47.09
4 California (8) 2:49.84
5 Indiana (3) 2:48.29
6 Auburn (10) 2:50.54
7 USC (9) 2:50.37
8 Alabama (8) 2:49.68

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